The psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihalyi wrote in his book Flow, “It is not the skills we actually have that determine how we feel, but the ones we think we have. If I think I’m a violin virtuoso but in fact I’m tone-deaf, aren’t I fooling myself? Yes, but it doesn’t matter,” Csíkszentmihalyi argues. “Either way, we experience flow, a state of mind where we are so engaged in an activity that our worries evaporate and we lose track of time.”
I once had a fellow undergraduate student in a closely related art field ask me, “How long is it going to matter to you how long it takes to make something?” Up to that moment, I had actually never considered the time, in fact I was hardly considering the object. Who cared how long it took to make things? I still don’t care. I care that my process stretches my limits not only of creativity, but also of enjoyment and exhaustion. As ceramic artists, yes we are object makers, but more intrinsically I think we are process makers. What does that mean? What we create is not so much an object as it is a string of actions. What we pull out of the kiln or use at the table is not just a thing; it’s a record of time. Each step from wedging to joining to firing is what we work so hard to get right every time we’re in the studio. When people ask us what we make we don’t just say cups and bowls, we say “it’s a wheel-thrown stoneware mug, with a pulled handle and a tenmoku glaze, fired to cone 10 in a reduction kiln.” It all matters. We make a process.
In this issue, we focus on those artists who gladly lose time in the flow of glazing and decorating. Thomas Gelsanliter teaches us the Mexican Cuenca tile technique of raised-line tile glazing (press-molded stoneware, trailed slip, glazed, fired to cone 6). Alex and Lisa LaPella share how they honed their interests in Mid-century Modern design and retro 70s patterns to create a language of glazed symbols (slumped terra-cotta slabs, freehand drawings, glazed, fired to cone 06). Michal Keren Gelman shows us how to make full-volumed bowls from thin slabs (stretched and stamped gray stoneware, folded, shaped, finished with matte glaze, fired to cone 5). Clay Cunningham, who is always learning something new in the studio, demonstrates how to combine bands of hand-carved pattern next to bright, bold glazes (thrown clay, slipped, carved, waxed, glazed, fired to cone 6).
Whether you have the skills or not (don’t worry that’s why you’re reading this) there’s no harm in fooling yourself as long as you’re developing a good process and enjoying the flow of time in your studio. My family jokes that there is everyday time and there is ceramic time. When I head to the studio, they say, “will this be a few hours or will this be ceramic time?” The latter is always the case.